Less than a decade ago, before Bandcamp and Soundcloud became widely utilized, recording is what a band did when they had enough live performances under their belt, and went in for the full LP or nothing. Yet now, if a band doesn't have something online, it's as if they're invisible. To gain fans, get their name out into the world, and be taken seriously, recording something of quality as soon as possible is now a rite of passage. Recording is also an important element in announcing change for a band: in lineup, sound, or intent. So maybe, like the timing of recording, the role of the EP has changed as well, in an age of primarily digital listening.
It occurred to me that five different Minneapolis bands each releasing an EP with subsequent EP release shows - all within two months this spring - would be a great opportunity to explore this question. So I did exactly that: interviewed the following five bands about their recent and upcoming EP releases and celebratory shows, to find out who they are and what their music is all about. And what exactly the purpose or meaning of releasing an EP is these days anyway.
What I didn't expect was just how much fun I would have doing it. A huge thank you to Carbon Handshake, Candid Kid, Fox & Coyote, Murder Shoes, and Ancient Mariner for their many hours of time and conversation with me this past month. Besides gaining five new favorite bands, I've gained many new friends, and am excited to see where the future takes all of us.
For your calendar, the remaining upcoming EP release shows are as follows:
Carbon Handshake - May 27th at Triple Rock Social Club
Fox & Coyote - May 30th at Amsterdam Bar & Hall
Ancient Mariner - June 7th at 7th Street Entry
EP Release Show
Wednesday, May 27th at Triple Rock Social Club
with Moon & Pollution and Danny O’Brien of The Farewell Circuit
8pm doors, $6/$8, 18+
"Can you make me good? Could you make me truly good? Just not yet..." The opening words of "Mantras," off of Carbon Handshake's newest release, hint at their desire this second time around to make a recording that is a clear reflection of their intent. Following their 2013 LP, A Dive Right, Carbon Handshake (Joe McNeill: vocals, guitar, keys; Clancy Brady: vocals; Andy Dean: guitar, keys; Mack Scott: bass; and Eric Cafferty: drums) approached this 2015 Pulp Life EP as “a relaunch” and “a chance to do it the right way,” as McNeill and Dean (respectively) admitted to me last week.
There is surely purpose and method to Pulp Life, and as a result, an EP in which every track has a leading role. “Nothing happens quickly for us,” frontman Joe McNeill explained, and the five took their time to create and record something direction-changing, steering them toward a more streamlined sound.
As McNeill commented, Pulp Life is “less self conscious” than its predecessor, and Brady even feels an element that is “groovy” in its midst. The core members of this band, McNeill and Dean, have no reason to feel unsure: they began almost a decade ago in middle school, and the more recent additions are at least three years past now. Their diversity in musical taste is an asset, and as they mentioned, they’re glad they “didn’t all grow up listening to the same five indie records.” Their roles vary as well, with McNeill at the start of the process, working with strong intuition, and Dean then as talent, brains, and record keeper. Brady brings a brilliant element of atheistic and unique vocal quality to the mix, with Scott and Cafferty not far behind in collaboration.
"It's a relaunch..."
"...a chance to do it the right way."
These five, already in the middle of a sonic transition, are amidst a life transition as well. As the majority are recent graduates, it’s still easy enough to fall back on recording at a parents’ house, or feel comfortable enough in a music scene that is abnormally supportive. McNeill appreciates that "...the caliber of venues you can play at in Minneapolis is impressive." This week, they play one of the best stages in town for their release show: Triple Rock Social Club, the perfect sonic fit for an aesthetic of black leather jackets and sneakers. Yet these kids are not driven by ego or rock-star status, just by love for the whole process of it, from creation to recording to live performance. “If I could do this full time?” Dean thought out loud, “that’d be so great.”
This Turtleneck EP is the result of a fateful meeting, a romance gone sour, and the desire to make something more of it all. Muller and Uselmann met years ago at a party, and discovered mutual music interests. Deciding to make a go of it about two years ago, they worked with local producer and engineer Izaac Burkhart to create a stellar recording with in-studio talent complimenting the duo’s creativity. They set themselves up for a challenge, as Muller and Uselmann needed to translate the caliber of the recording into a live band that wouldn’t feel like something less. "...[we] wanted to find people who could play at the level of what we had recorded,” Muller explains, and they were lucky to get introduced to Doten and Kling, who had studied music at Bethel University in Saint Paul. As far as bass and drums go, Candid Kid got what they asked for and more. Last weekend, both Doten and Kling spoke almost exclusively about their mentors and inspiration in the local music scene, serious about honing their craft - but leaving room to crack a well-timed joke any chance they got.
"...[we] wanted to find people who could play at the level of what we had recorded."
“Summer” looks forward to the future, and our own sunny season around the corner. Muller optimistically proclaims, “we grow worthless in the summer, but it’s worth it to be a lover,” after four songs sprinkled with angst and growing pains. As a whole, Candid Kid is also ready for whatever comes next, now fully solidified as a quartet and with a dynamic sense of energy that reminds me to take life a little less seriously. This EP is the tip of the iceberg, with more new material just waiting for its turn to be heard. And with twice as many young and talented members a part of the process this time around, I’m (not so secretly) hoping the next release will be twice as long.
Saturday, May 30th, 2015 at Amsterdam Bar & Hall
with Al Church and Pill Hill
8pm doors, $5/$7
Evans (guitar, vocals) and Harms (banjo, backing vocals) are joined by Amy Chatelanie (cello, backing vocals) and Jimmy Barnett (drums, backing vocals) to create a quartet that shines, delivering the pure essence of indie folk. Navigating the transition of the years that come after post-secondary education, these graduates have gained wisdom with their years, and reflect on relationships though this release. Evans points out that the theme of relationships is “wide enough… [that it] can mean many things for many people.” Some are obviously romantic, such as the opening tracks, “Come On Home” and “Coal Diamond,” and some are more vague, such as “Elizabeth Bishop,” which deal with the idea of there always being “something underneath” during those times of transition in life, whether physical or emotional.
"Every single track depicts where we are right now."
To be completely honest, Evans admits: “Vulnerability is power,” which is a fitting concept for this release. While the tunes may reflect a sense of loss or inability to keep what one wants, “all the songs have some kind of promise.” This is demonstrated no better than in “Burning Out,” in which Evans warbles nonchalantly that he has “no worries about the darkness” and that “[the sun] it won’t die on me.” The only bad luck they’ve had in the Minneapolis music scene is scheduling, and I don’t expect much more than that.
The creation of this self-titled EP, however, was not left fate. Partnering with Knol Tate for all aspects of the process - recording, mixing, and mastering - the final product is a home run, and a fun one, too. “When we recorded with Knol Tate, it was a very smooth and comfortable experience. It helps that he's pretty damn funny too,” Van Gieson pointed out. “He brought out this weird guitar pedal that a friend of his makes that only makes one sound - that of an angry bee, and we put it on "Under The Sea.” It sounded ridiculous and I think we all laughed after we heard it during playback, but it worked.”
For all their experimentation, there is some kind of refined simplicity in Murder Shoes’ rock and roll. There are no electronic extras, and they aren’t trying to replicate or modernize the past; their sound just has exactly what the ear needs to rock out. It’s catchy in an understated way, like the song at a party that puts you in a great mood, and you vow to look it up when you get home. That song, by the way, would be “Under the Sea.” In it, Weinberg croons, “I know we’ll get together” and “I want you to know what I already know” over a flirtatious beat. The next track, “Sea a Little Louder,” continues this moody feel. Starting off with a great bass riff, I imagine this song is what it sounds like to make eyes at someone across the room, and walk confidently through a crowded bar. Yet to the words of, “I guess I’m good at being alone” and “I do what it takes to go on,” it doesn’t exactly imply you’ll be conversing with that someone at the end of the night.
"We need each other to make this music."
Murder Shoes’ single off the EP, “Maybe You Can,” picks up the pace for this wild west-like, old school rock and roll jam with a dark side. If the first track was a tease, this one’s a threat. Full of energy and charisma, the instrumentals say as much as Weinberg does. The Red Stag Supperclub was alive with dancing, whistles, and shouts when this song began at their release show last month. Don’t be surprised to hear this around town or on The Current come this summer.
“In Your Bed or On a Train” takes the EP home, with an upbeat, faster paced, driving beat – a danceable one, too. It’s a strong ending to the recording, and there isn’t a weak track on it. These five set out to make great music, and the end result speaks to that goal. Not only does it sound like it was fun, but a rewarding experience as well. Weinberg mentioned her favorite part of the process was “getting to spend some irreplaceable time with the rest of the band. It has been so fun and creative and enjoyable. I feel really lucky to get to spend time this way.” White took it deeper, admitting: “We need each other to make this music.”
Sunday, June 7, 2015 at 7th Street Entry
with Carbon Handshake and Worth Your While
7pm doors, $5, 18+
Confronting intense topics such as a separation from Christianity in current single “Deep Space,” Jorgensen doesn’t shy away from the expectation of what change means for a person or a band. He admits, "My mindset this time [was]... I'm not playing this by myself." Previously a solo endeavor, Jorgensen arranged tracks to be performed with loopers and other one-man show staples. But to be honest, “Anyone who expects a band not to grow and change can shut up,” and Jorgensen is fully committed to wherever Ancient Mariner goes now as a trio.
"My mindset this time [was]... I'm not playing this by myself."
The beginning of “Multicon” feels like the start of something from In Rainbows, and rocks out more than most other Ancient Mariner compositions. With influences from Radiohead to Son Lux to Sufjan Stevens, Jorgensen brings a versatile and quality lead to what is Ancient Mariner and its growth. And with fellow songwriters Davison and Stewart, there is a plethora of potential within this group. Minneapolis’ “willingness to help out” also stands out to Jorgensen, noting the passionate and overlapping involvement in the local music scene in Minneapolis, compared with the somewhat indifferent pace of the Denver music scene.
Yet it’s also the abundance of talent within Ancient Mariner that may hinder it: Davison and Stewart form a group known as Wingman, and their sound is promising one. “It may not be Ancient Mariner on tour in the future,” Jorgensen shrugs, with a body of work of his own still unreleased, but he would very much like to end up on tour in the year to come, no matter what the pretense. Mostly, he’s just “intrigued to the response” of this EP, curious to the reactions of those who both knew of Ancient Mariner before and those who are completely new ears. So much of it is “where it meets you,” we agreed – the experience of how you first come across a song or an album, where you are in life when you listen to it, and how it resonates with you. For an optimal experience with this release, I would recommend a lone late night with quality headphones, and attending the release show on June 7th at First Avenue.